Before being allowed to stay home alone I ate supper with my parents at the Diner most evenings. Afterwards they’d sit, drink coffee, and talk to Grandma Dixie and Grandpa Collin. We never left early, always the last to leave. There was nothing to do other than play the jukebox, or help Janitor Earl mop the floor. He smelled like bleach water; he looked like his mop.
At the jukebox, slipping my dime into its coin slot then making my selection – first a letter then a number – I watched the 45’s circle to my choice. The Ferris wheel of records paused just before the mechanical arm picked mine and placed it on the turntable. Watching through the framed glass window was my favorite part. When the needle hit the record there was a scratching sound then music. I knew A5 by heart:
“You know, every now and then I think you might like to hear something from us nice and easy. But you see, we never, ever do nothin’ nice and easy. We always do it nice, and rough. But we’re gonna take the beginning of this song and do it easy. Then we’re gonna do the finish rough. This is the way we do, Proud Mary. Rollin’ on the river. Listen to the story now.”
As I sang with Ike and Tina Turner Mom sat at the table and smiled. Dad was too busy talking to Grandma and Grandpa. They didn’t even notice. I saw Tina on TV once. She wore a dress made of orange fringe. Before Proud Mary I’d only seen fringe on the outer edges of Grandma Dixie’s bathroom rugs. When Tina danced the firey tassels of her dress leapt from her body and twirled about. I imagined, dancing there in front of the jukebox, that I was wearing fringe. When the song finished the needle stuck. It’s scratching repeated. Over. Over. Over. I wanted to continue spinning, my fringe twirling, but Grandpa Collin got up, walked toward me, then unplugged the jukebox. Its lights faded with the scratching sound.
I just stood there. Embarrassed by his scowl. It’d be a long time before the jukebox would be plugged in again.
After we left the Diner, in the car Mom turned to me in the backseat, her arm stretched over and behind the front seat of our ‘77 Grand Prix. She asked if I ever considered taking basketball lessons. “Your cousins play church league, Grey, wouldn’t you like to also? With lessons you could beat them.”
“No. I don’t like basketball.”
“But you’ve never tried.”
“Yes I have! During gym. Denny and Josh make fun of me.”
“Well see, with lessons you could show them a thing or two. Besides, your Dad and I’ve signed you up. They’re at the Y. You can walk over after school. By the time I’m finished with work lessons will be over.”
The YMCA was an ancient three story building near Main Street. It smelled like Janitor Earl. I had taken swim lessons there, reaching level minnow. The pool was in the basement. Near the diving board a fat metal pipe extended from the wall then curved out and over the deep end. It looked similar to, I imagined, the Michelin Man’s bathtub faucet. I never saw water come out. When turned on it must have filled the pool in no time.
To change into swim trunks I had to undress in the men’s locker room. I hid in the corner if other guys were there or boys I knew. Often I’d go to the toilet stall to change. Basketball lessons would mean changing into basketball shorts.
“Do I have to?”
“Yes. You’ll have fun. Classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00-5:00. The coach is expecting you.”
She glanced at Dad then turned, her hand lightly brushing his right shoulder as she faced forward.
Dejected, I burrowed into the back seat. At least I had the weekend to invent my plan and plot my Y revolt. In the meantime I’d practice my twirl.